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by Ian Lopez

Polish and Mexican restaurants in the Logan Square Neighborhood reflect the cultural diversity of the community. While strolling down the flower-lined streets the fragrance of carne asada and perogies instantly consume the senses, leaving the walker with a temptation to duck into one of the traditional eateries.

However, are all the restaurants really safe to eat at?  Documents filed with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CPDH) by city health inspectors may make some residents who enjoy dining out question where they’re eating.

In 2008 Polish restaurant Czerwone Jabluszko on Milwaukee Ave. violated regulations for adequate food protection and proper temperatures. The citation stemmed from a customer’s complaint about feeling ill after eating there.

Czerwone Jablusko’s general manager Anna Czarnecka-Hebal didn’t believe the allegation was true.

“How could someone get sick if employees eat it here three times a day and never get sick any day?” Czarnecka-Hebal said.

Also mentioned in the reports about Czerwone Jablusko, which is also known by its English translation, the Red Apple, was a recurrence of dirty dishes and improper handling of them while being cleaned. For example, dish racks were too close to the floor and there were crusted and cruddy pots.

However, according to restaurant consultant Danny Bendas, keeping a restaurant perfectly clean is by no means an easy task.

Bendas, who works for Texas-based Synergy Restaurant Consultants, a company that specializes in helping dining establishments maintain health standards, offered some tips for what to look for when considering where to eat.  Key clues, he said, are individually wrapped silverware that is shiny, clean and devoid of water spots. Clean bathrooms are also good indicators.

“Restrooms are a very important part of the restaurant,” Bendas said. “A dirty bathroom could mean a dirty kitchen. If you are concerned about the cleanliness of the restaurant, take a look at the restroom.”

The Red Apple restaurant in the Logan Square neighborhood boasts numerous awards for its scrumptious Polish buffet spread, but health officials have cited this establishment and many others city-wide for code violations. Image courtesy of the Red Apple.

The Red Apple restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood boasts numerous awards for its scrumptious Polish buffet spread, but health officials have cited this establishment and many others city-wide for code violations. Image courtesy of the Red Apple.

Health code violations don’t necessarily affect popularity. The Red Apple is one of the most preferred restaurants in the area, and recently was crowned “the best buffet of 2009” by the Chicago Reader.

“We’re on the top,” Czarnecka-Hebal said. “There aren’t so many famous Polish restaurants on the market…lot’s don’t last as long as us.”

Fellow local eatery Zacatecas on Diversey Ave. is no stranger to CPDH citations either.  The restaurant serves what owner Michelle Medine describes as typical Mexican food.

“It is not easy to run a business like a restaurant,” Medine said.  “There are different codes and standards that need to be met. It is hard when (employees) don’t know what they do. But if you have the right people, it is not that hard.”

CPDH reports from 2006, 2007 and 2008 indicated that Zacatecas’ rules may not be up to the standards set by the city, citing the restaurant for having a dirty kitchen, not maintaining proper food storing temperatures and improperly storing dishes.  Also enclosed with the inspectors’ reports was a complaint filed in 2005 by a customer who claimed to have found a roach inside food, though no pests were found on the premises during an inspection.

“We have taken the necessary steps to ensure our systems are clean and sanitized,” Medine said about the improvements required of their kitchen.  “The health and safety of our guests is a priority.”

The health department’s reports stated that since the initial citations, improvements for Zacatecas’ hazardous conditions have been made.

The Zacatecas Restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood has lots of great food and reasonable prices, according to online reviews. Image courtesy of The Restaurant Place.

The Zacatecas Restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood has lots of great food and reasonable prices, according to online reviews. Image courtesy of The Restaurant Place.

The problems faced by the Red Apple and Zacatecas are common, both to the neighborhood and in general.  Nearby establishment Andrzej Grill, for example, was cited for problems very similar to the previous two restaurants, and was also cited for not having a pest control log.

Other notable problems with neighborhood restaurants were found at Armitage Shrimp House, which was cited for excessive grease build-up in their kitchen, an employee not wearing a hat while preparing food, and like Andrzej Grill, not having a pest control log.

When questioned about issues cited in reports from city health inspectors, Czarnecka-Hebal said, “Every restaurant has some kind of citation.”

“People are people,” Czarnecka-Hebal said. “Somebody put a biscuits (tray) near the floor for a minute and the inspector saw it.”

Copyright 2009

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